What’s Going on at Mount Bethel? The Restoration of the Oldest Church in Blowing Rock

Published Monday, July 16, 2018 at 1:46 pm

 

All photos courtesy of Andrew Critcher

 

By Elly Murray

The Mount Bethel Church, the oldest church still standing in Blowing Rock, is finally getting the repair it needs. Organized in 1886 by Jacob Kluttz, it was originally a German reformed church. Andrew Critcher, the great-great grandson of Jacob Kluttz, explains that, “My great-great grandfather’s the one that gave the property and started the church and the cemetery.”

The cemetery behind the church remained under the care of Kluttz’s descendants, but the church itself has changed hands quite a few times. It’s been passed down through different churches throughout the years, but Critcher is proud to say that, “We’ve got it back in our family now.”

 

 

However, the church is not quite in optimal condition to host events. Critcher says that, “There’s quite a few churches that come up and visit. We had two in the spring and another one in September, but there’s quite a few sister churches that come up and visit.” However, other than these few visits a year, the church doesn’t see many visitors.

This is why when Critcher and his family became owners of the church again, he immediately set to restoring the legendary church to its former glory. He really wants to help the church become what it once was, and he says, “I just want to get the church back to its glory. It’s just falling in and I want to put it back exactly the way it was, get all the pews redone, the floor, everything. And then just maintain the two cemeteries and make it a holy place and a place of peace, and just put it back the way it used to be.”

He describes all of the damage from over the years that needed to be repaired, “The floorboards had to be fixed and jacked back up, and the seal all the way around needed work. (In) the four corners, the posts were missing; we had to restore those. Some of the stone work…we had to restore. The windows we had to get working again; they’ve been painted so many times that they were painted shut. Of course, all the paint inside and out needed to be restored. Some of the window sills needed to be replaced…a bunch of trees and bushes had to be removed in the parking lot.”

 

 

One of the things that Critcher feels is particularly important is the small wood-burning stove that used to be in the church. He explains that,  “It used to have a stove in it, and the previous owners took the stove out and I want to put it back in. I was looking for people that had any pictures that had weddings in there where I could find a picture of the stove and try and get one similar to it to put back…I’m gonna put the chimney back and put the stove back the way it used to be.”

Another challenge that Critcher is excited to tackle is the windows. As he explains, “This church had stain glass windows and I’ve got a few panes (that) are cracked and I’m gonna have someone try to restore the stain glass windows.”

For a while, the Elrod/Green Cemetery across the street was owned by different people as well, but Critcher explains that, “we never had much to do with it, but the previous owners owned it, so it was one of those things that I ended up with all three properties.”

 

 

Critcher says that he’d always known there were around 10 graves in that cemetery that we’re unmarked, but, “I had Keith Seramur from ASU come over and we found 104 unmarked graves. Evidently that cemetery goes back to about 1750, we’re finding out, and there’s a lot of graves over there that the headstones have rotted away or broken or are gone. So I’ve been trying to find the people, the families of the 104 graves. We found about 40 people that know someone is buried out there, just don’t know where.”

Critcher spoke at a dinner a few months ago, about the restoration project and how people could support the rebuilding of the church. He says that he thinks, “It went real good…I’ve had quite a few people donate and contribute money and I had a lot of people come by and help me on it too.”

Since then, a lot of volunteers have come to help Critcher restore the church, including, “The carpenters that helped me restore the whole outside…they all donated all their time. My two daughters and my wife have, some of my family have, a few friends have. Quite a few people come by and help…it’s been real good.”

 

 

Critcher has set up as a 501c.3, a non profit, and you can donate to the restoration by mailing him at PO Box 1251, Boone. The name of the company is Kluttz Preservation and Critcher says proudly that, “It was named after my great-great grandfather, Jacob Kluttz, who gave the property to the church and the cemetery and helped start it.”

 

 

Critcher is eager to finally get the church back to the peaceful, grace-filled place it used to be. He knows that it will be a long process of repair, but, “It’s just a big restoration project, piece by piece.”

The restoration of this magnificent church could not have happened without the community getting so involved, and Critcher is really pleased about that. He says, “Everyone has just been so great, helping donate money or time to this. It’s just great to see everyone helping out, doing what I’m doing. It’s just been a real good experience.”

The Mount Bethel Church is located at 100 Rankin Rd in Blowing Rock, if you would like to stop by, check out how the process is going, and maybe even lend a hand.

 

Unmarked Graves

Lonnie Webster submitted these photos back in May when the restoration was just beginning. In these photos, you can see how many unmarked graves were discovered, marked by the white flags. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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